Report: Half of Calif. donations lost to overhead

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A report released Thursday reminds Californians to pay attention to their charitable giving this holiday season.

The study by the state attorney general's office found commercial fundraisers in California raised more than $338 million last year, but only about half that amount actually went to the charities.

About $173 million, or 51 percent, collected using commercial fundraisers went to charities such as Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity and the Humane Society of the United States. The rest was retained by the commercial fundraisers as payments for fees and expenses.

"While commercial fundraisers play a role in supporting charities in California, it is important for donors to know how much of their money will be used to support the charity's programs, and how much will go to overhead," Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement releasing the report.

Most registered charities do their own fundraising without the use of commercial fundraisers, which typically charge a flat fee or a percentage of the contributions they collect.

The report also determined the share of donations going to charities has gone up. In 2010, only 44 percent went to charities.

While some groups received 100 percent of donations, the study found many charities lost much of their money to commercial fundraisers.

For example, donors last year gave $227,304 through four commercial fundraisers to San Francisco-based Earthjustice, but the nonprofit environmental law firm netted just $12,530, or 6 percent.

Melinda Carmack, vice president for development at Earthjustice, said in a statement that less than 1 percent of money raised by the firm comes with assistance from outside fundraisers. She did not directly address how commercial fundraising impacts the charity's revenue.

"Much of the rest comes from regular Americans who support our mission to protect the air their kids breathe, the water we all drink, and the incredible natural heritage we all enjoy in this country," she said.

One campaign conducted by the New Balance shoe company raised more than $1.2 million, and all of that money went to the Susan G. Komen Breast Center Foundation as intended.

The report does not include thrift store operations and vehicle donation programs.

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